While the path of each entrepreneur is distinct, experts agree that most entrepreneurs share a few core characteristics. This is particularly noticeable if one defines an entrepreneur as an individual who innovates, not only in business, but in education, philanthropy, and a host of other pursuits as well. In an article featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Joe Robinson suggests seven traits that mark successful entrepreneurs.
It’s not easy to have the courage to break rules and to go against convention. Few people embody this trait more than Ram Dass born Richard Alpert who left a coveted faculty position at Harvard to become a spiritual teacher, author of the seminal book, Be Here Now, and founder of two charitable foundations. “I got thrown out of Harvard,” he once said. “[Everyone] saw me as this incredible loser. The problem was that the integrity with which I had acted was absolutely true to my most inner being—and I was right.”
2. Self Confidence
Sara Blakely, whose revolutionary women’s undergarments called Spanx made her the world’s youngest female billionaire at 41 years old, shares Ram Dass’s strong belief in self. She became an entrepreneur when she invented and patented footless pantyhose, risking her entire life savings of $5,000 to do it.
This trait exemplifies those who spot opportunity, and imagine what could be, rather than accept what is. In 1970, aspiring publisher Earl Graves began to share his vision about starting a magazine for black business executives. “What black business executives?” advertisers asked. Graves knew that soon there would be an audience for his magazine, which became Black Enterprise, because he saw increasing numbers of African Americans graduating from college.
Vision is closely allied with passion. Most entrepreneurs love what they do and want to share it with others. That was true of Edwin Land, the scientist who developed instant photography. His passion for scientific experimentation began at an early age, when he dismantled the family phonograph. Although he was punished for it, Land said, “From then on, I was totally stubborn about being blocked. Nothing…could stop me from carrying through the execution of an experiment.”
Thomas Edison developed many designs that ultimately did not pan out. A mistake caused him to lose a great deal of money when he failed to patent his kinetoscope outside of the United States. But he persevered and history records the results. Edison celebrated his own stick-to-itiveness in his well-known admonishment that “genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
The ability to change course, adapt and thrive in a dynamic environment is an important attribute. This holds true whether the correction is to surmount an obstacle or take advantage of a new opportunity. Sales executive Mary Kay Ash experienced this when she retired after a 25 year career, expecting to spend her golden years writing a book about the challenges of working women. But, when she sat down to write, something clicked. Rather than a book, she found herself writing a business plan, and Mary Kay Cosmetics was born.
7. Tolerance of Uncertainty
This trait is built upon a foundation made from all the others. Uncertainty can create fear and frustration, causing a person to lash out, become paralyzed, or just give up. Patience with ambiguity is born out of passion for the work, a vision of something better, the tenacity and flexibility to deal with roadblocks, and the self-confidence to remind oneself that omelettes aren’t made without eggs being broken. If there is one thing to remember about the traits of entrepreneurs, it’s this: Entrepreneurs are often the square pegs who don’t fit into the round holes, the smart alecks who irritate teachers, the ones who, as Thoreau wrote, “hear a different drummer.” And they are also the ones who grow up to be admired, and who give the world innovations that make life better.
Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center Nasdaq Education Foundation
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